It’s more than the occasional headache, a lingering ache from a recent sports injury, or a bit of persistent discomfort. It’s chronic pain—and experts estimate that just over 20% of people struggle with it. That number, which means 1 in every 5 people suffers from chronic pain, is alarming in and of itself. But it’s made worse by the direct connection between chronic pain and substance abuse.
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The impact of chronic pain on a person’s life is undeniable. Problems may include:
- Sleep disturbances which may lead to an ongoing lack of energy
- Difficulty working which may lead to financial problems
- Difficulty enjoying socializing which may strain relationships with friends and family
- Higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Impaired judgment, reasoning, and cognition
Given these serious issues, it’s little wonder that people in the grips of chronic pain might make poor choices when it comes to seeking relief.
7 Types of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can be the result of a number of problems and conditions. Types of chronic pain include:
- Chronic primary pain: Three months or more of ongoing pain that isn’t attributable to another condition
- Chronic cancer pain: Pain related to directly to cancer or to treatment for cancer
- Chronic posttraumatic pain: Three months or more of ongoing pain following trauma or surgery (excludes pre-existing conditions or infectious diseases)
- Chronic neuropathic pain: Pain caused by damage to the somatosensory nervous system
- Chronic headache and orofacial pain: Pain endured on at least 50% of days over three months or more originating in the head or face
- Chronic visceral pain: Ongoing pain emanating from an internal organ
- Chronic musculoskeletal pain: Persistent pain originating in the bones, joints, muscles or connective tissue
Trading One Problem for Another—Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse
It’s only natural to want to do anything possible to make chronic pain subside. That desire for relief at any cost, however, puts those suffering from chronic pain at significant risk for developing a substance abuse problem. Whether the abused substance is a legally prescribed medication—including opioids (which are not automatically addictive, but also aren’t necessarily a perfect solution to pain)—that is misused by the patient, an illegal drug, or a problematic drug like alcohol, chronic pain can lead to lasting addiction issues.
Because of this, it is essential that we recognize the signs of potential substance use disorders:
- Seeking increased doses of medication
- Acquiring (or seeking to acquire) prescriptions from more than one doctor
- Using alcohol or illegal drugs while taking pain medications
- Defensiveness when asked about substance use
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Extreme changes in behavior or mood
- Troubling reductions in attention to personal hygiene and appearance
When any combination of these signs is present, it’s time to seek help for opioid addiction.
Finding a Path Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
It might feel like a problem with no solution. Either the pain will undermine the sufferer’s life or the substances taken to dull the pain will. How can a person with chronic pain and addiction issues break out of this terrible cycle?
There are drug-free options for dealing with chronic pain, and a care team can work with a patient to find options that bring relief while lessening the danger of a relapse into addiction.
Each person is different, so each plan must be personalized. Options to consider include:
- Diet and nutrition: Switching to an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet rich in whole grains, fish, fresh fruits, leafy vegetables, and olive oil may reduce pain while improving overall health.
- Energy healing: Research is ongoing, but some studies have suggested that alternative practices—including acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, and qigong—may offer benefits as part of a pain management plan.
- Environmental changes: Adding soothing features to an office, simplifying and de-cluttering the home to lessen the time spent on chores, or setting aside a quiet space for rest and relaxation may help ease chronic pain.
- Mind/body medicine: By helping control emotional responses like stress, fear, and panic, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and relaxation exercises can aid in the management of pain.
- Movement-based therapy: Musculoskeletal pain may be alleviated via physical therapy, yoga, Pilates, and/or tai chi. The endorphins released during exercise have been shown to block pain signals in the body.
- Physical manipulation: Don’t deny yourself that massage. It can release tension, improve circulation, and promote greater mobility. The same is true of chiropractic care.
- Sleep hygiene: Get serious about sleep. Creating a comfortable environment for rest, avoiding screen time and stimulating activities as bedtime approaches, and setting (and sticking to) a sleep schedule can help those with chronic pain get the rest they need.
- Social changes: A strong support system of family and friends can provide patients with increased emotional resources necessary to manage their condition.
When Meds Are Mandatory—Benefits of an Opioid Agreement
Sometimes medication is going to be the best option for pain relief. An opioid agreement may be an effective tool if an opioid is determined to be an essential part of a pain management strategy. The agreement is a structured contract between the person in recovery and his or her physician.
An opioid agreement should address steps that will be taken to promote the safe use of the medication, such as having a family member dispense the drugs as needed, only using one pharmacy for prescriptions, and taking periodic drug tests. By embracing these sorts of protections, the person in recovery is better able to balance the need for pain relief with the need to manage addiction.
We’ll Help You Reduce Your Pain and Protect Your Sobriety
Bel Aire Recovery Center‘s drug and alcohol addiction treatment program is equipped to help you or your loved one manage pain effectively in a way that minimizes the dangers of relapse. The pain, the addiction, or both may seem overwhelming, but we can help with expertise and compassion.